Register Sunday | June 16 | 2019

Tobias Wong Breaks the Mould

An Interview

Tobias Wong is a shit disturber. Figuratively and literally. “I’m a provocateur, not an innovator,” says the expat Vancouverite. “Innovators are geniuses! And that’s not what I went to school for.”


Wong graduated from the Cooper Union School of Art’s sculpture program in 2000. He’s been in New York ever since, and is currently living and working in a “very comfy” eight-foot-by-nine-foot apartment in an undisclosed Brooklyn hipster neighbourhood. “But I don’t consider myself a ‘Brooklyn designer,’” he’s quick to stress. “Location is often out of necessity, not choice.”


Wong’s self-styled “paraconceptual” work frequently repurposes other people’s designs, an activity liberally defined to include irreverent demolition. When Wong made his Aalto Doorstop, he broke the mould—which happened to be a glass vase designed by pioneering Finnish modernist Alvar Aalto. The “readydesigned” This Is a Lamp cheekily converts a plastic Phillipe Starck chair into, well, a lamp. For us$7,500 to us$25,000 per parcel, Wong even offers gift-wrapping solutions…using original Andy Warhol screen prints.

Creation and destruction “are the same,” he says. “Nothing is created purely out of the ether. Everything comes from something else.”


“The Aalto vase, for example, was the departure point. I wasn’t improving it; to improve something would be dealing with its original function. I’m provoking ideas. I haven’t made a better vase, I made a doorstop. But I guess you could still put some flowers on top of it if you wanted.”


Unlike conceptual artists such as J. S. G. Boggs (who must “spend” his hand-drawn counterfeit currency in order to complete the artwork), Wong is concerned with executing the idea, not how people interact with the resultant object. “It isn’t necessary to take the Silver Pills,” he explains, referencing his metal-flake-filled, ingestible capsules designed to bedazzle the user’s feces. “What I’ve done is realized the possibility.”


“Before, shitting silver and gold was just a dream.”